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Updated: January 22, 2013 18:14 IST

Going from Zero FIRs to e-FIRs

Aparna Viswanathan
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The government must allow the online filing of first information reports in rape cases as that alone will ensure mandatory and automatic registration of complaints

On January 18, 2013, Delhi police chief Neeraj Kumar announced that Zero First Information Reports (FIRs) may be registered on the basis of a woman’s statement at any police station irrespective of jurisdiction. This means women can file an FIR at any police station and the complaint is required to be registered on the basis of the woman’s complaint verbatim. Mr. Kumar stated: “The woman’s statement has to be taken as gospel truth and a probe needs to be initiated on its basis.”

Important step forward

At the same time, the Delhi police chief announced a series of other measures such as the recruitment of 418 women sub-inspectors and 2,088 women constables, deployment of PCR vans outside women’s colleges, the provision that women can call 100 to seek assistance to be dropped home at night by a PCR van, and 24-hour police cover for areas around entertainment hubs with heightened security between 8 pm and 1 am. While the foregoing measures must certainly be welcomed as an important step forward towards making the criminal justice system functional, it is surprising that e-governance has not been utilised by the Delhi police as an important solution in a country which is considered the world’s leading provider of IT enabled solutions.

E-governance is the application of information and communication technology to delivering government services, exchange of information and integration of various stand-alone systems and services between the government and citizens as well as back-office processes within the government. Through e-governance, government services can be provided to citizens in an efficient and transparent manner, which is of desperate need in India.

As shown by the introduction of the Zero FIR, the starting point towards improving criminal justice is the filing of the criminal complaint itself. It is well known that the filing of FIRs, particularly for cognisable offenses, is an extremely difficult exercise — more so for a rape victim who has to ceaselessly recount the horrific event. Police stations often refuse to register FIRs for cognisable complaints, and innumerable rapes around the country go unreported. The victims then are forced to file a private complaint in court under Section 156(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) seeking an order directing the police to register an FIR. The police chief’s announcement that the woman’s statement will be taken as the “gospel truth” is an important first step that will hopefully enable rape victims to register an FIR.

The police have often taken the view that, under Section 154 of the CrPC, complaints need to be investigated before the FIR is registered because the complaint could be a disguised civil or commercial dispute or a way of settling personal enmity. Complaints of criminal cheating and fraud are sometimes filed as a way of pressuring business associates to settle financial disputes or for personal grudges. However, this is highly unlikely to occur in the case of rape. In fact, there is no reason why all complaints for at least cognisable offences should not be registered as FIRs and then investigated.

While the Supreme Court has, in various judgments, taken contradictory views on the issue of whether the police are required to investigate a complaint before registering an FIR under Section 154 of the CrPC, it has repeatedly expressed its deep anguish over the failure of police to register FIRs, particularly in rape cases. Hopefully, the police will now register an FIR based on the woman’s statement as per the recently announced measures. However, the mandatory and automatic registration of FIRs can be ensured only through e-governance, that is, by providing for online registration of FIRs by citizens.

Tracking network

The online registration of FIRs was supposed to be implemented by 2013. On March 21, 2012, the then Union Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, stated in the Rajya Sabha that online registration of FIRs would be possible once the server and network connectivity was established by the end of 2012 or early 2013. However, the online filing of FIRs will be made possible only upon the implementation of the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS), an ambitious Rs. 2,000 crore project of the Home Ministry, aimed at increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of policing through e-governance by creating a state-of-the-art IT-enabled crime tracking system for investigation of crime and detection of criminals.

Under CCTNS, 14,000 police stations will be automated as well as 6,000 offices of higher police officials. The CCTNS is a platform for sharing real time information by law-enforcement agencies, which will improve identification of criminals and crime investigation. Funds in the amount of Rs. 418 crore have reportedly been released to the States/Union Territories and 4.54 lakh people have been trained. The CCTNS project was supposed to be completed in March 31, 2012. However, in June 2012, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) extended the deadline to March 2015.

In November 2012, the Home Ministry began monitoring the status of the CCTNS project on a weekly basis and appointed 20 Joint Secretaries to monitor the progress of the project and ensure completion by March 2015. The delay in project implementation was reportedly due to the non-availability of common application software (CAS) and infrastructure problems. Since law and order is a State issue, issues of coordination between the States also contributed to the delay. However, it is unclear why the Indian government needs to implement a Rs.2,000 crore project before enabling online filing of FIRs. In view of the great national imperative in creating deterrence against rape, websites and e-filing mechanisms should be immediately created to permit e-filing of FIRs at least in rape cases.

The online filing of annual accounts and other documents was successfully implemented several years ago by the Ministry of Company Affairs. Various State governments have also provided for online filing of police complaints and online payment of traffic challans. The Himachal Pradesh Police have introduced an interactive portal called “Kanoon Vyavastha,” the first of its kind in the country, by which a police complaint can be filed online or by SMS. As per a report in the Financial Express, of 1,821 SMSs received, 22 FIRs were registered without the complainant having to visit the police station. Of these 22 FIRs, reportedly only one was related to a rape case. After the launch of SMS service in May 2010, 4,392 SMSs were received, of which 82 FIRs were registered. The complainant can check the status of the FIR online and post comments. The web portal is used for daily crime reporting, providing details of missing persons and vehicles and road accidents. Jalandhar reportedly has an online crime tip page where people can anonymously inform the police of a crime that has been committed. Similarly, Maharashtra has an e-complaint system for reporting minor crimes, that is, non-cognisable offences.

Simultaneously, with the introduction of Zero FIRs, online filing of FIRs at least in rape cases should immediately be implemented irrespective of the status of the CCTNS project. The introduction of e-FIRs will be an important signal to all criminals that rape will not go unpunished.

(Aparna Viswanathan is author of Cyber Law: Indian and International Perspectives (Lexis Nexis Butterworths Wadhwa 2012))

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The e-FIR system needs to be implemented as soon as possible. This will definitely help in removing fear from the our hearts and will also help in creating fear in every criminal's heart. When the criminals will know that the crime committed by them is not going to go unnoticed and immediate action will be taken against them, then the crime rate will definitely decrease.
Such facilities creates confidence among the general people and this will encourage them in fighting crimes. In many cases people dont register the complaints because they are afraid and fearful to do so. If e-FIR is introduced then it will definitely give them courage to do so.
In many cases, police officers takes money from the victims for filing an FIR. Therefore, this facility will help in reducing corruption as well. It goes without saying that it will also help in reducing the delay in investigation.

from:  imran ali
Posted on: Jan 23, 2013 at 16:20 IST

The article "Going from Zero FIRs to e-FIRs" throws light on how a
technology enabled service can help society for a better tomorrow.
The bigger picture is that it enables accountability of police,which is
very minimal, otherwise.The point of skepticism lies on the subject of
implementation.
CCTNS in its primenaliry form is a hope.But it is achievable only after
complete modernisation of the judicial system.But it is a welcome move.

from:  Dhananjay Yadav
Posted on: Jan 23, 2013 at 02:29 IST

The idea of filing of FIR through e mail is the sure shot way of
mandatory registration of FIR. I am in complete agreement with the
writer. On many occasions of rape incidents it is really not possible
for the victim to reach to the police station as so many factors
create hinderance out of which the social fear is the biggest one. by
this e mail facility , the victim and her family will feel free to
register their FIR. Government should take immediate steps to
activate CCTNS.

from:  rashmi bansal
Posted on: Jan 22, 2013 at 23:45 IST

Introducing this CCTNS and "Kanoon Vyavastha” is indeed a good suggestion. However,to sustain the system is a huge task.We often fail to maintain the standards of these system.

Introduction , projection and implementation and then its stability matters a lot. If this things are followed all things would fall in places. And thus ,Our country would be a better place to live in.

from:  Jennifer John
Posted on: Jan 22, 2013 at 23:41 IST

There are many statistics out there about crime which claims many rape cases that goes
unreported thanks to the archaic system of filing FIR and the mental trauma the victim has to
go through when she narrates the incident again to the police in person. In order to assist the
traumitised victim to report the case and so to stem the impunity with which the rapists
escapes, online e-filing of FIR comes off as the great help here. When everything which is
made available online has become more successful and easier, the government shall
expedite the process of making FIR filing online which would go the long way in bringing
down the crime rate.

from:  Santhosh k
Posted on: Jan 22, 2013 at 20:15 IST

Why do people think that "e-anything" will improve the quality of
service? Reminds me of the dot com era when "anything.com" would sell
on the stock market.

Lets say that one can file FIRs online. Wouldn't we need personnel to
follow-up and take action on these FIRs or would they stay on paper
only? It would be far more practical to have police that are in-tune
with the needs of the public and take down FIRs or god-forbid, even go
to the victims' homes even if they are not offered a bribe. Of course,
we need to keep in mind that not everybody in India has a computer and
74 crore out of India's 121 crore population lives in rural areas.

e-FIR is a good thought but the need is to fix the basic police
infrastructure first. Otherwise we are talking about e-junk.

from:  Rahul Garg
Posted on: Jan 22, 2013 at 17:59 IST

If CCTNS would be an effective tool in implementing the filing and tracking of criminal cases, why wait to implement the same. Women whose welfare is much sought would be the direct beneficiaries. Police will have their work carved out easy and culprits punishment faster. Is Rs 2000 cr the impediment? Here comes my suggestion.

The female population of India is 59 cr. Female children in the age 0 to 10 years is 7.5 cr. Hence female population above 10 years is 51.5 Cr. Employment among women is 32%. This means employed women are 16.5 Cr in numbers. A onetime contribution of Rs 100/- in itself is sufficient to raise money for the project. Thus the project is self-financing.

The differential amount required to make funding for the project complete can be raised from Gen Y, who are maximum in India, predominantly round collared workers and will have no hesitation to contribute Rs 100 onetime if this will bring safety and security to their brothers and sisters.

from:  S Raghavan
Posted on: Jan 22, 2013 at 13:15 IST

We make laws frame policies but how much we use and regulate them?it
is a big question.No doubt with increasing population blast and
advanced communication media our state machinery also need to be
abreast to attend the grievances of the people.But my apprehension is
not with the medium of information;that can anyway reached to
police(Better if reach fast and instantaneous)but do our police react
that fast on it?Answer is no many places in India are not having
access to electronic media and when some poor wants to lodge a
complaint,they are ignored because their voice is not that loud that
can be heard in 10 janpath.
By CCTNS or Kanoon Vavyastha like program our system is trying to help
small section of urban population and we appreciate it.But What about
the distant ignored india where 'Kanoon' means to follow law and order
terms of few rich and powerful people.There is very thin lining
between equality and justice and our system is capable of maintaining
it.Just need to wake it up.

from:  Mayank Kanga
Posted on: Jan 22, 2013 at 12:37 IST

CCTNS is one of the best step that our government has taken but this project must be monitored frequently by the government so that it will be completed on time.Also system like "KANOON VYAVASTHA" of Himahal pradesh,every state of our country is expected to implement this type of system so that the burden that central government is going to bear,can be distributed and project will complete on time.Once this project will be completed and comes in effect it will become a boon for us.

from:  BIKESH SHARMA
Posted on: Jan 22, 2013 at 12:17 IST

Good idea. But how practical is the implementation of the CCTNS ? It
does have a threat of hacking from external sources unless proper
security set up is made. The question of credibility arises. How many
cases registered will be genuine enough ? If anonymity is allowed,
doesn't it lead to personification of interests ? Treating women's
word as gospel truth and registering FIR is fair enough idea
until it is not misused. Online FIRs will help the women as in India,
going to Police station is something like a disgrace, especially for
women. The government should expedite the process and complete it as
soon as possible for betterment of society .

from:  sunny
Posted on: Jan 22, 2013 at 12:04 IST

Good hopeful sketch for future speedy justice and better FIRs
registration. This will only work if there is simultaneous police
reforms and awareness to write sms by rural applicants also.Therefore it
needs reforms at various levels.

from:  Rakesh Manchanda
Posted on: Jan 22, 2013 at 11:47 IST

It is rightly said that FIRs should be e-FIRs. It's a proven fact that
use of ICT has a positive effect. One problem of non registration of FIR
could be solved by this. But care have to be taken as there is always a
scope of misuse of this facility for some personal gains. Nevertheless,
it is a welcome step towards good governance.

from:  Akshay Dhadda
Posted on: Jan 22, 2013 at 10:34 IST

Instead of creating smokescreen about the complainant regarding motive, or if it pertains to rape by a male,the method can be made much simpler by putting a form required to be filled up with a correspopnding serial number.A centralised desk must be made to provide necessary answer within a defined time.As a counteraction even punsihment can be recommended for putting up untruth in the site

from:  atis
Posted on: Jan 22, 2013 at 10:13 IST

Just take the simple case of a complaint on theft of of motor
vehicle.the police simply refuse to register a fir insisting the complainant must
search and wait.the refusal is to avoid pending complaints.and the the insurer will
insist on timely fir and even deny the claim on that premise.several complainants do
not pursue thecomplaint or ev a claim as stakes for an old two wheeler may be too
modest.very unfair.for the criminal justice to work registration of complaints must
start with the premise that each complaint was bonafide not the reverse.if complaint
was found motivated or false the complainant must feel the rap.otherwise the
system woiuld continue as it is.

from:  n vijayaraghavan
Posted on: Jan 22, 2013 at 06:40 IST

If Indian Government implements the e-FIR system, It will be a milestone in deterrence of crimes happens in India. CCTNS project should be the long term goal for Union Government, But e-FIR system should be implemented immediately to avoid the unreported rape cases and unpunished crimes.
We have e-governence in everything from public distribution system to banking, the why can't we implement the e-FIR system for at least rape cases immediately?

from:  Sakthivel.S
Posted on: Jan 22, 2013 at 05:17 IST

Ms. Aparna,

I totally agree with your claim that e-FIR is what India needs
and not zero FIR. But is India really ready for it?

The Kanoon Vyavastha you mentioned is considered as a big flop:
himachalwatcher.com/2012/12/07/hp-polices-kanoon-vyavastha-web-
portal-a-big-failure/. The entire Stack Trace is visible for all
and this speak volumes about the security provisions. We don't
even need to go that far. As mentioned in yesterdays paper
(titled Access Limited), most of the Govt. websites does not even
satisfy international access standards, let alone security.
Let us face it! We have a long way to go before our corporate IT
prowess gets reflected Government services.

So in my opinion, Govt. spending 2000 Cr is not too much. Rather
it is ambitious to think that just 2000 Cr is enough to provide
the necessary framework and security apparatus. We also have to
keep in mind that most of our police men are untrained in the IT
department.

from:  Naveen Emmanuel
Posted on: Jan 22, 2013 at 04:43 IST
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